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Vanishing Past

Ancient tomb site targeted by vandals 'not being protected' by government

Locals say fallen crash barriers and poor signage at Carrowkeel passage tombs are posing ‘no deterrent’ to vandals who attacked the site in Co Sligo last year.


THE GOVERNMENT HAS been accused of failing to protect one of the country’s most ancient sites months after it was subjected to a shocking act of vandalism.

Locals say Carrowkeel passage tombs has been left poorly secured, with pictures from this month showing rusted crash barriers partially covering the entrance to the Co Sligo neolithic site.

Other images show one of the dislodged stones, damaged by vandals in October, sitting completely open to the public.

One ‘No Entry’ sign, erected by the Office of Public works (OPW), is also seen discarded on the ground surrounding the 5,300 year-old site.

Last year, Gardaí launched a criminal investigation after graffiti was etched into various stones on the passage tombs.

The ancient tombs are under state guardianship and are open to the public.

Following the vandalism, the National Monument Service (NMS) said it was considering closing public access to the landmark. Barriers were later erected as a temporary move to secure the site.

img_0094-4-SQ An ancient stone dislodged by vandals sits awating repair at Carrowkeel tomb passage in Co Sligo. Concerned local Concerned local

Noteworthy, the crowdfunded community-led investigative platform from The Journal, supports independent and impactful public interest journalism.

No deterrent to vandals

Speaking to Noteworthy this week, one local woman said she has previously flagged the poor security measures around Carrowkeel tombs with various government offices earlier this year, but nothing has been done.

She said that visitors to the site have been pulling back the crash barriers and gaining access to the area, and to the tombs themselves.

“There’s no protection,” she told Noteworthy. “There’s no cameras… there is no deterrent for anyone to go in there and vandalise them again.”

She also raised concerns over the failure of OPW and NMS to repair one of the ancient stones dislodged in the October vandalism attack.

In a statement, a NMS and OPW spokesperson said repair works are “underway” at the Sligo site, describing it as a “highly complex conservation task”.

“All possible efforts are made to protect national monuments, which is challenging where they are in remote rural settings such as at Carrowkeel,” the spokesperson said.

“Climbing on the passage tombs and accessing them without permission is dangerous and is prohibited. There are signs on site stating ‘No Climbing’ and ‘No Entry’. These signs are replaced by the OPW when they are vandalised.”

carrowkeel-tombs-vandalism-SQ The entrance to Carrowkeel tombs in Co Sligo which locals say has been poorly secured by the Office of Public Works. Concerned local Concerned local

World Heritage Site bid

The spokesperson added that OPW undertakes “frequent inspections” at the main cairns – G, H, K and L – which receive the largest footfall and the temporary barriers, if interfered with, “are reset”.

“Carrowkeel Passage Tomb cemetery forms a central component of the World Heritage bid – The Passage Tomb Landscape of Sligo – which is on Irelands Tentative List,” the spokesperson added.

“A Conservation Management Plan will be developed in due course for the complex, which it is hoped will assist with protection of the heritage.”

The concerns come just weeks after a Noteworthy investigation revealed protected sites have been attacked at least 140 times in the last three years.

The attacks, recorded between 2021 and 2023, include graffiti sprayed on buildings, damage etched into stone work and locks regularly broken off secured buildings including churches.

The reports included the attack on Carrowkeel passage tombs described as a “very significant case” by An Taisce’s heritage officer Ian Lumley.

“The impact of vandalism on monuments is as much a concern as the climate impact on monuments or ongoing weathering and erosion,” Lumley told Noteworthy.

By Patricia Devlin of Noteworthy

Noteworthy is the crowdfunded investigative journalism platform from The Journal. This article was funded in its entirety by our investigative fund.

What’s next? We want to expose if Ireland’s museums are hoarding historically stolen goods. Help fund this work >>

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